Female prisoners learn the power of poetry
By Audrey Esther, News9.com INsite Team
MCLOUD, Okla. -- It's a startling statistic that Oklahoma incarcerates more women than anywhere else in the country. According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, of every 100,000 women, about 130 are in prison.
That statistic got the attention of a well-known poet who hopes the power of poetry might be able to change the lives of Oklahoma inmates.
"The things that I've endured and overcome and conquered to this point, going through turmoil, I think it needs to be heard, spoken," said inmate Latoya Trammell, after reading aloud her poem about the missteps that led to her current 10-year sentence for child abuse.
Patiently listening to Trammell were about 40 other female inmates. Many like Trammell were eager to share their poetry too.
"It is my outlet. It is my addiction or my drug," said 32-year-old Trammell. "It is something I have to do to make me whole as a person."
During a four-day writing workshop these women got the chance to put into poetry their life experiences, including life inside Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
"We have something to offer the world from inside here and the way we can do it is with writing," said 47-year-old Jerrye Broomhall, who is currently serving a 17-year sentence for armed robbery.
Teaching the four-day workshop was well-known poet Jimmy Santiago Baca.
"They don't have all the distractions we have out in society, so their writing is coming out so forceful so strong and so pertinent to life itself," Baca said.
Baca, who is now an accomplished author and poet, was once himself an illiterate federal prisoner.
"My poetry is probably my life. I started writing when I was in prison. I love it," he said.
Literacy, Baca said, is the key to reducing the recidivism rate, which is especially high in Oklahoma.
Patricia Rucker has been incarcerated for 15 years and will be up for parole in May 2009. The 38-year-old said the workshop has given her renewed hope for a life after prison.
"With people like Mr. Baca coming in and telling you that you're beautiful, that life is still out there waiting for you, you can still breathe, that makes me smile even more," Rucker said.
Warden Millicient Embry said writing workshops such as the one taught by Baca reinforce the power of positive relationships and positive communication.
"For us the main benefit is a behavioral change, a more pro-social individual in the prison and certainly, more importantly, when they are released to the community," she said.
The workshop is a partnership between Mabel Basset and Oklahoma City University. Embry said officials are discussing plans to establish a permanent writing workshop in the future.